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27 November 2014
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From Bradford to Normandy
graves in Normandy
Graves in Normandy

In 2004, school pupils from Queensbury in Bradford went on a special visit to Normandy to remember those that lost their lives on D-Day. As Remembrance Day drew near they told us us what they'd seen and thought - 60 years on.

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POPPIES

Scarlet poppies grow naturally in conditions of disturbed earth.

The significance of the poppy as a lasting memorial symbol to the fallen was realised by the Canadian surgeon John McCrae in his poem In Flanders Fields.

The poppy quickly became a lasting memorial to those who died in the First World War and later conflicts.

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One pupil standing on the beach recalls what it must have been like: "The sea was like blood". Another pupil says it reminded him of a film he saw: "It was like Saving Private Ryan."

Before they went to Normandy the school pupils' expectations of what they would see didn't match the reality. One pupil says: "I thought on the beach there would be loads of boats that were neat and preserved but there weren't."

Mulberry Harbours
Mulberry Harbours in Normandy.

Instead when they got to Normandy they saw "big concrete blocks all organised in a line" and "tank-type" objects that they could look into.

The schoolchildren were shocked with just how many people died in the D-Day landings and how young the soldiers were. When they walked around the American cemetery one pupil called it "depressing" and another said there was a "bad atmosphere".

The scale of the memorial struck all the pupils from Queensbury school. As well as the 10,000 headstones, there is a list of 1,500 names on a big monument at the top of the graveyard in Arromanches. One pupil saw a time capsule, filled with newspapers and other artefacts about D-Day, which is planned to be dug up in 2044.

The pupils noticed the German cemetery was different to that of the Americans. One says: "It was all dark". Another says: "They were buried differently - they put two to a grave because they thought they might be lonely." One other pupil adds: "The families and the French people still respect it. Most didn't want to be in the war. It wasn't their choice."

Memorial in Arromanches

The message outside the German graveyard: 'War graves are a great communicator of peace', hit home with the young students. One says: "It's quite sad that so many people have to die before they realise how bad it is." One other pupil has a bleak outlook for future generations though: "No matter how many people die there are still going to be wars."

The Queensbury school pupils had a museum tour and were surprised with what they learnt. One school pupil says: "They had special roads across the water for all the jeeps. It took two years to plan but was built in two days." Another pupil says: "They had balloons in the sky that planes would fly into and crash."

The visit to Normandy has opened the eyes of the children from Bradford. They only knew about D-Day from what they were taught in school and saw on TV but they say that earlier this year being on the beaches and seeing the acres of graves has educated them more than any text book or documentary.

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